Atherton's City Council voted on March 4 to allow the town to compete for a contract to provide financial and accounting services for the South Bayside Waste Management Authority, which oversees garbage collection and recycling services for Atherton, Menlo Park and other San Mateo County communities.
The move was strongly opposed by council member Elizabeth Lewis.
Council members voted 3-1, with Mayor Rick DeGolia absent, to prepare a bid for the contract with the waste management authority. Staff members said the job would require hiring an additional part-time person, but would be a profit-maker for the town. If the town wins the contract it will start providing the services in June.
"If this is going to be a cost for the town, we're not going to submit a proposal," said City Manager George Rodericks, "but if it's a money generator for the town, then I would suspect it would be kind of a no-brainer, revenue for the town, even if it's $30,000 or $40,000."
Ms. Lewis said she believes that with the number of major issues coming up for the town, including the building of a new civic center and implementing drainage and bicycle-pedestrian plans, the additional work would dilute the focus of the staff.
"We have just so many projects on our plate -- why would we want to take on one additional body of work that is not really in our core focus of what we do?" she asked. "Because what we do is the business of the town of Atherton. This is not the business of the town of Atherton."
Council member Bill Widmer is currently chair of the waste management board, which is made up of representatives of each of its member communities. Mr. Widmer said he believes the town can do a good job of taking care of the authority's finances.
Sharing the tools the town uses to publicly post its financial records will make it easier for the public to see the authority's finances, he said. "We do a lot better job" of sharing information, he said.
"I think it's a good opportunity for us,"
council member Cary Wiest said. "I do like the fact that we've been pushing the envelope as far as open government. We're going to be pushing them toward more transparency as well," he said.
Ms. Lewis, however, said she had received a phone call from a council member in another community concerned that Mr. Widmer has a conflict of interest by serving as chair of the waste management board while his town competes for a contract.
"I see a perception of a conflict of interest," she said. "I think the perception is maybe worse than the reality."
But Mr. Rodericks jumped to Mr. Widmer's defense. "There's no conflict of interest," he said. Mr. Widmer will recuse himself from voting on the contract, and the attorneys for both Atherton and the authority have said there is no conflict, he noted.
"I appreciate you watching out for my reputation," Mr. Widmer said to Ms. Lewis. "It's not just your reputation, it's the town of Atherton's reputation," she replied. "I think it's something that we just should not go forward with."
Council members Mike Lempres and Mr. Wiest voted with Mr. Widmer to allow the town to bid on the contract. If the town's bid is approved, the council will have to sign off on the final contract.
The South Bayside authority is a joint powers agency that owns the Shoreway Environmental Center facility in San Carlos and oversees garbage collection and recycling in Atherton, Belmont, Burlingame, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Hillsborough, Menlo Park, Redwood City, San Carlos, San Mateo and parts of unincorporated San Mateo County.
The city of San Carlos currently provides accounting services for the authority, but the contract expires June 30. San Carlos charges $132,000 a year to provide the financial services, town staff members said, and it is bidding to renew the contract for three more years.
The staff report, prepared by Finance Director Robert Barron, says Atherton could "offset some of the current costs of the Finance Department and expand its service and program capabilities" if awarded the contract, while giving "minor adjustments" to the department's workers to offset the additional responsibilities.